On The Set Of White House Down, Joining Channing Tatum On An Epic Race From Script To Screen
All this remarkably intricate detail work serves as foundation for Tatum, Foxx and Clarke to unleash themselves in potentially epic action sequences. I visited on shoot day #33 of 82, when Emmerich's team was preparing for a pivotal fight scene, the first face off between Tatum's strapping Capitol cop and Clarke's sneering mercenary. The complicated fight choreography plays out atop a sprawling set made to look like the roof of the White House. Wind machines blared as Tatumódressed much as he is in the film's promo poster--barrels into Clarke who is aiming a Javelinóa sort of heat seeking missile launcheróat a hovering helicopterówell, where one will be added via CGI.
In the scene, the two must dodge bullets and an explosion's debris while keeping up a rugged cat and mouse chase. Each time "action" was called Tatum and Clarke threw themselves literally full-bodied into the action again and again, burly shoulders hammering elbows into each other's strong jaws. In between takes, Tatum danced or bounced to keep his adrenaline going. With Magic Mike still fresh in my mind, I marveled at seeing Tatum's trademark physicality in action live. It was easy to see why in our interview Emmerich had called him, "The most physical actor I have ever met in my life."
Tatum's friend and business partner Carolin explained it this way:
"When you work with Channing, you really realize thereís very few actors working today that can do what he can do. I mean you see when he does Magic Mike, he can move like nobody else in his age group. And you only have so much time when youíre a young actor like that before your body just starts not being able to do it. And you watch him do these stunts, heís flipping around and doing crazy stuff, like he did a bit in his small part in Haywire. And I just felt like weíve gotta seize the opportunity and do one of these things because action movies are action movies. Theyíre super fun and theyíve got a certain formula to make them work. But when you have somebody in the role who can make you believe in them but also do the physical stuff, thatís really rare."
Though he had a stunt doubleówith a strong square jaw that made him a dead ringer for heroes of the 1980s videogame Contra--Tatum did every take I saw himself. It's a point of pride for him, Emmerich told us, "He did every stunt himselfÖI mean you have to talk him out of a stunt and the only way you can talk him out of a stunt is like 'Itís really high risk and you donít see his face.' Heís always very concerned that you see his face, because heís very proud that he does his own stunts. And itís a little bit lost in the last ten years that people are proud of doing it. But itís actually when you see him doing it, itís like 'Oh yeah, this is the real thing.' Thereís no face replacement. Itís Channing and you could not do that many face replacements anywhere, so itís cool. I like it."
That day a point of contention between the director and his star was over one stunt in particular, one that Tatum told us he desperately wanted to do. "Theyíre still trying to talk me out of one stunt. Iím going to look at it and if I think I can do it. Itís just a fall, a 25-foot fall, but the way you have to fall is bad because you have to fall on your side or on your back and thatís always dangerous," Tatum admitted. "Yeah, thatís the only one questionable. Everything else will be me. I like doing this stuff though, itís kind of the whole reason that you want to do the movie. When youíre reading it youíre like, 'Oh, I get to dive out a window? Cool! I get to jump off a building? Great!' So I love doing that stuff."
In a move more common for dance movies than action flicks, Emmerich and his longtime cinematographer Anna Foerster are using wide lenses to better capture Tatum's endless energy and seriously stunning physical prowess. Though the VFX and editing teams were on site, already hard at work to be sure film hits its summer deadline, I didn't get a look at edited footage of Tatum in action. But I am eager to see the wide coverage applied to Emmerich's ambitious adventure. Really, this could be Emmerich's biggest movie yet. I mean, it is the White House after all. As Kloser surmised, "It's like the White House is the one symbol in the world that as a building represents power, freedom, really democracy. This is all embodied in this one house. I mean, I don't know, what other symbol would be there if you wanted to say, 'This symbolizes the Western free world.' I wouldn't know anything else. If you play with those big ideas, you always somehow end up at the White House."
White House Down opens June 28th 2013. For more on the film, check out our interviews with Tatum and Emmerich. You can also see a ton of new images from the film in the photo gallery below.
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